A VOICE, A CHOICE: ‘Le Bon Pasteur’ by Jaques James Tissot (1886 – 1894); Brooklyn Museum

 Jacques Joseph Tissot, later anglicised as James Tissot, was born in 1836 near the busy port of Nantes, France to a prosperous draper. At the age of 17, he embarked upon his artistic mission which spanned three successful periods. In the first phase in Paris (1859-1870), he enjoyed great success as a high-society painter. He lived among rich aristocrats near the Arc De Triomphe in Paris. His leisured, well-secured life was soon skewered by the struggles of the French Revolution.

The fall of the Second Empire in 1870 and the bloody Franco Prussian war in 1871 compelled him to flee to London. Here, from 1871 to 1882, his career soared for the second time. However his successful eleven year sojourn ended in an emotional disaster. In 1882, his dearly loved mistress, Kathleen Newton died of consumption.

While working on a series of paintings themed, ‘The Woman of Paris’, James Tissot visited the Church of St. Sulpice in order to sketch the portrait of a choir singer. Amidst the patterns of brush and paint, he was drawn into a vision where he encountered Christ; Christ the Good Shepherd tending to the broken-hearted and the down trodden. This was his route to Damascus; his Metanoia! Deeply renewed in faith, Tissot now renewed his artistic vision.

He took off on a research trip to Holy Land, beginning his ten year campaign to illustrate the New Testament. The result of this endeavour was the magnanimous ‘Life of Christ’ popularly also known as ‘the Tissot Bible.’ It consists of a series of 350 water coloured paintings brimmed with profuse observations of the first century Jerusalem.

The painting in consideration is titled ‘The Good Shepherd’ and forms a part of the representations in the ‘Life of Christ.’ With lucid realism it elucidates the Gospel of John, chapter ten. The composition is visually divided into three significant segments – the background, the foreground and the protagonists.

The narrative unfolds amidst the dry and rugged terrain. The landscape is not bound by the monumental and exquisite architecture of the Renaissance. Rather it is swooped with stones and rocks. It introduces us to the wilderness of Jerusalem, a city that rests on a limestone plateau 2000 feet above sea level.

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